A local planning advocacy group has announced its intentions to sue the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors over its recently adopted General Plan update, a long-term blueprint that’s supposed to reflect the community’s vision for growth for the next 20 years.
The lengthy document – officially approved by the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 12 – has cost the county several hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff time and consultant fees since 2006.
Members of the Calaveras Planning Coalition, the group planning to file the suit, have spent more than a decade commenting in public hearings, study sessions and community workshops about the General Plan.
The goal of the lawsuit is to protect the people of Calaveras County from the economic harm and impact to natural resources that would result from the county’s approval of an “incomplete General Plan,” according to a letter sent to supervisors from the CPC on Nov. 30.
In the letter, which was a Notice of Intent to file a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) petition against the county, coalition attorney Tom Infusino said the plan neglects to prioritize its approximately 120 implementation measures, the majority of which do not have deadlines for completion. Some examples include addressing missing community plans and improving emergency response times, pedestrian safety and agricultural land conservation – all “critical issues” identified in the county’s 2008 Issues and Opportunities report.
Implementation measures under CEQA are designed to minimize significant environmental impacts of proposed development.
The update also “defers indefinitely” work needed to fund infrastructure and service expansions necessary to accommodate new development, Infusino said.
In another critique of the plan, Infusino said the county is dragging its feet on adopting mitigation measures to reduce 25 significant impacts listed in the update’s environmental impact report.
Some of those include the increased risk of loss, injury or death due to wildfire; traffic congestion; noise; loss of scenic views and agricultural lands; violation of health standards for air pollution, the destruction of historical and cultural resources, the loss of oak woodlands, the loss of riparian and wetland habitat; and the loss of the special status species habitat that currently helps the county avoid federal development injunctions, the letter states.
The county rescinded several community plans that had mitigated many of these impacts for several years, Infusino said.
“Calaveras County is facing great challenges in regard to wildfire control, water supply security, and road safety; in regard to resilient economic development and workforce housing; and in regard to range management and forest health,” the letter from the CPC states. “Calaveras County needs to adapt to survive. Unfortunately, it is too easy for a local government at rest to stay at rest. Unfortunately, it was too easy for our local government to put off until tomorrow what it must do today. After spending 13 years waiting for the county to complete a general plan, we do not have the time for further delay.”
Infusino said the case will likely take two to three years before a court decision will be issued. Part of that process includes compiling 13 years of General Plan update data to present to the court.
“We challenge the Board of Supervisors to immediately set priorities, timeframes and objectives for the over 120 deferred measures in the General Plan update,” the letter states. “We challenge the Board of Supervisors to secure the funds and hire the staff to promptly do the necessary work … (and) to adopt, within the next five years, community plans, programs, impact fees and codes necessary to enhance both our developed lands and our resource production lands.”
Calaveras County Counsel could not be reached for comment.
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors was sued earlier this year over its General Plan update as well.
John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center (CSERC), the Twain-Harte based advocacy group that filed that suit, said that due to legal constraints on public discussions of possible settlements, he can only share that “CSERC remains open-minded to settlement of the lawsuit.”
Regarding the notice of litigation in front of Calaveras supervisors, Buckley said, if a lawsuit “ends up costing the county staff time and dollars, or if the county gets forced to go back and start over again after all these years, it will be because the board chose to rigidly disregard repeated requests to improve measures and correct numerous legal flaws in the plan.”